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Don't Forget the Frosting

Where did all the popcorn balls go?

All photos by Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES

The tradition of trick-or-treating took off in post-World War II United States. Although the practice hails from a myriad of traditions, including Celtic and Catholic celebrations, trick-or-treating for Americans in the 1950s and 1960s was rooted in community and light-hearted fun. Though children still hunt down treats door-to-door every Oct. 31, trick-or-treaters of our time miss out on an experience worth more than a favorite candy bar.

When my mother, whose prime trick-or-treating years fell between 1956 and 1964, went out in her homemade costume to collect treats, she stayed in her neighborhood, as opposed to driving to another one in search of bigger candy bars. In fact, the most common and craved Halloween treats came from the neighbors’ kitchens instead of a store. Kids would go into the houses to perform the trick part of trick-or-treating. The amused inhabitants would then pass out caramel apples, popcorn balls, cookies, fudge and even peanut brittle. Often bags of loose candy like kisses or candy corn were given as well.

It sounds like a quaint episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Leave It to Beaver,” but that was the reality for most kids on Halloween in those decades. While the homemade treats are arguably more desirable than the packaged candy bars that come in 5 1/2 pound bags at Costco, the current Halloween culture points to modern society’s overall lack of community.

As children of the 1990s and early 2000s, the majority of us did not grow up knowing more than a few of our neighbors. Children would be more likely to pepper spray a neighbor who invited them inside than actually go in. Instead of trust, our communities reek with suspicion that does not fade, even on Halloween. Our parents inspected our candy wrappers for tears and syringe holes. Any bag of loose candy or homemade treats ended up in the trash can instead of our bellies. It is disheartening to observe the turn that society took over the years, especially through the lens of a holiday that should be about fun — with a hint of mischief of course.

Yet unless Doc. Brown shows up with his DeLorean or humanity decides to spontaneously reform, all this nostalgia and reflection fails to serve our modern sweet tooths. As college students with a dorm kitchen, at the very least, you can make your own treats instead. With just a few tricks out of a 1950s cookbook, you and your friends can enjoy all the caramel apples and popcorn balls your hearts desire. Just don’t invoke “stranger danger” by handing them out to your local trick-or-treaters.

Caramel Apples
Source: Chronically Vintage

8 apples, washed and dried completely
14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 wooden skewers

Remove the stems from the apples and puncture the top of the apple with the skewer, pushing it about halfway in.

Combine the sweetened condensed milk, sugar, corn syrup and brown sugar in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature until it reaches 235 ºF. Stir constantly to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Take off the heat once it reaches 234 ºF and stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Immediately dip the apples into the hot caramel, using the skewer to turn the apple and coat it completely. Place on parchment or wax paper until cooled.


Popcorn Balls
Source: Chronically Vintage

10 cups popped corn, using either microwaveable bags or an electric popper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 1/ 2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Pop the popcorn according to the package or appliance’s directions. Toss with the 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. There should be room in the bowl to stir the syrup into the popcorn.

Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium-size saucepan over high heat. Stir only until all the ingredients are combined, then let boil until it reaches 280 ºF. Slowly stir in the evaporated milk and then bring the mixture back up to 280 ºF.

Quickly pour the finished syrup into the popcorn, starting in the middle and distributing it throughout. Stir immediately until all the popcorn is coated. As the syrup cools, shape handfuls of the popcorn into balls and set aside to cool. 

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